Every summer I set a goal for myself. Usually, like every time I set a goal for myself, it's a number: I'll lose 15 pounds this summer. I'll be a size twelve by September. I'll get to Gold's 12 times a month.
This year, I thought I'd try something else. I'd set a goal that had nothing to do with number and instead take up something that would help me reach those numbers. This year, I was going to take up tennis and really, really learn it this time.
Those who have known me long enough, and there aren't many who have, can remember that my interest in tennis has equaled my talent. Which means I had neither in any amount. My first stab at the sport came in the form of a mandatory fresh year in high school gym class. Thankfully I was paired with my dear friend Rochelle, and we spent those torturous hours smacking the ball over the fence so we'd have to fetch it, thereby spending LESS time actually trying to play tennis. (I haven't ever asked Rochelle if she's gotten more serious about the game. I think I'm afraid to.) Our gym teacher, after about two classes, sighed, understanding she was going to get nowhere with me, and left me to my own devices while she spent time with the girls who could manage to get the ball over the net without pounding it into the parking lot. (One would think with the kind of power I exhibited, I'd have been great at softball. One would be terribly wrong.)
The next time I entertained the idea of tennis was a year later. We moved, I transferred high schools, and I hated my life. I was not, back then, the super cool amazing person I am today. (I know that's hard to believe.) I had, after a year at the new school, almost no one in the way of friends, certainly not many who were willing to seek me out during the long days of summer. So I spent a lot of time at my manual typewriter, writing the book that would later become my beloved Lies in Chance. My mother did not like the idea of having her daughter indoors all summer, so she signed me, and my younger brother, up for tennis lessons through the local Park and Rec department.
Three days a week for nine weeks we were to meet a group of other beginning tennis enthusiasts at a local park where a teen instructor would teach us the secrets to hitting the ball over the net, and in bounds instead of whacking it into the lake. My mother saw this as a great opportunity for her bookish daughter to make friends.
My mother clearly did not read the fine print and therefore missed the part where children ages 8-11 were invited to be in this class. My brother, going into sixth grade, could blend with little effort. I, however, was almost fifteen, and was, to the delight of my fellow beginning tennis players, the ONLY one wearing a bra.
You think bra snapping was a game mean middle grade boys played?
Let me tell you, eight year old girls enjoyed it, too.
The class involved a lot of lining up and then executing the skill one at a time. That gave the undeveloped urchins in the group plenty of time and opportunity to mess with my support garment. I, being the oldest, the tallest, and the most uncomfortable, did not fight back. What, I was going to slap some little kid with my racket and get in trouble for beating up someone half my size and almost have my age?
"You're stupid, you're fat, and you're ugly!" They would murmur as I tried to focus on my forehand.
Yes, children, they are the future. And based on those darling imps, my future looked sucky.
My brother hated that class, but for another reason. Entering his middle school years, my brother was at the dawn of a phase in his life where he hated pretty much anything my mother suggested he do. That phase is ongoing even today.
Here's what my mother thought tennis lessons would be like.
And below is what it really was like.
I tolerated the "bra-buse" for about two weeks. After that, we'd get our tennis gear, my brother and I, and we'd ride off at the prescribed time. He'd go to a friend's house. I'd go to the library where I could read or write in peace. We'd then meet up near the house and arrive home together.
I made zero friends that summer, but the welts in the middle of my back healed nicely.
The next time I picked up a tennis racket was in college when, again, I was forced by the gym teacher to learn how to play tennis. The college gym teacher, however, was also my guidance counselor, a man who was very good at motivating non-athletic women to do things they thought were insane...like tennis...or hurdles. (I took to the hurdles far better than to tennis.) He knew me well enough to know my history with the sport, which probably didn't do my chances at actually learning how to play any better.
But what really stopped me from learning anything that time was a simple case of an underfunded program depending on over scheduled staff. The tennis nets hadn't been put up by the time we were doing the tennis section of the semester. "Just imagine the nets are there and hit the ball so it goes so high," my gym teacher said, holding his hand level just below his waist.
I did the best I've ever done, not saying much, in that class. At least I kept the ball in the fenced area. Did I keep it on my court? No, of course not. But I made some strides.
After we were married, Hubby and I got tennis rackets. I think I've used mine twice in the 20+ years we've been married, the most recent was shortly after Skippy was born. (He's nineteen.)
So clearly, deciding to take up tennis, for me, was a big, weird step. But Hubby is very supportive of anything I suggest we do outside, away from the computer. Which is why he dug my racket out from who knows where in the garage yesterday and we went to the local court and hit the balls around.
Here's a pic of what I look like playing tennis...if I weighed 100 pounds less, had any skill, and could hold on to the racket.
I'm quite proud to say that while my backhand is beyond horrible, I did manage to keep the ball in the fenced area, and I was able to return and volley a few times. I only put one ball in the tree, and Hubby was able to knock it out quickly. We worked on it for over half an hour, which doesn't seem like much, but between my arthritic hands and toe, and the fact that moving quickly for a girl my size is a challenge, I think it was good for a first outing.
Oh, I'm sore as the dickens today, but I made Hubby promise me he'd force me out again tomorrow, provided the weather is nice.
I'm not going to lie...I'm praying for rain. No, I'm praying for a deluge that wipes the courts away from our fair city.
But I am a woman of my word and if it's nice tomorrow after work, I'll get out there and hit a few more balls over the net. Maybe one of them will stay in bounds.
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